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Grandote’s groundbreaking

by Nancy Christofferson

    An event of no small interest in La Veta occurred 26 years ago – the official groundbreaking ceremony for the future Grandote Golf and Country Club.

    Originally to be called Panadero golf club, the course was the brainchild of developer Dwight Harrison, the same man who made Panadero Ski Resort a done deal a few years before, and his partner and architect, Dave Jones.  Harrison announced the proposed golf course in August 1983 when he purchased 280-some acres from Otto and Jacque Goemmer.  He also bought the old 160-acre Estes ranch south of town along the Cucharas River.  Harrison said the course would be completed within one year.

    The first tee constructed was #1, which faced north, completed the same month as Harrison announced the course’s commencement.  He said the course would eventually have 27 holes plus 323 single-family homes, 165 cluster home sites and 192 multi-family sites.

    The project stalled soon after the first shovel turned over dirt.  A large problem was quickly discovered.  Architect Dave Jones’ plans included a quarter-acre on the east that actually belonged to the Town of La Veta.  Harrison offered in August 1984 to buy the parcel for $3,000, but was refused.

    Nevertheless, groundbreaking was scheduled for September 10, 1984, though the one-year completion date had passed and construction had barely been started.  A special treat for attendees would be meeting Tom Weiskopf, designer of the course.  More than 200 people were in attendance that Monday afternoon.

    Work again stalled, with Harrison and Jones adapting the plat to make up for that missing quarter acre, while also seeking bonds for construction. And, winter was closing in.

    While waiting on developments, valley residents could see helicopters flying to the south as they installed the new triple-chair ski lift at Cuchara Valley Resort, where the snowmaking system was being completed.  To the west, HBB Corporation was busily drilling its sixth natural gas well near Goemmer’s Butte.  To the east, the one-million dollar Rio Cucharas Inn motel, spa, lounge and restaurant were under construction.  Tip Pinkerton’s new apartment complex in north La Veta was annexed.  It was a busy time.

    Summer of 1985 saw real progress on Grandote.  An experienced crew of 40 golf course builders from Arizona moved massive amounts of dirt, assisted by local contractors.  In November came the announcement the course was 90 percent complete, and seeding and the sprinkler system were underway.  A course superintendent from Winter Park was hired.

    Well, the best laid plans…  In early June 1986 a massive storm turned the Cucharas into a churning deluge that caused $50,000 worth of damage to Grandote, washing out parts of two holes and quite a bit of the irrigation system.  It was back to the drawing board to adjust plans to avoid more flooding and destruction in future.

    Almost three years after the one-year project was introduced, the first nine holes of Grandote Golf and Country Club were opened July 19, 1986. Greg Icabone was superintendent.  There were 25 gas-powered golf carts available for $12 and greens fees a round of nine cost $10.  Memberships were $250, or $300 for a couple.

    That winter was spent on finishing the second nine holes, which were to be opened in mid-June, but actually opened in late July.  By that time, the 2,100 square foot clubhouse/pro shop was ready, in a modular unit served by a well and septic system.  Harrison was still trying to get on the town water and sewer system.

    Grandote employed 24 that summer of ’86. Suzy Chiapetta was manager.  Membership fees went for $350 for singles, $500 for couples.

    In 1987 the first hole-in-one was made.  The honor went to Jimbo Wetsel of Cuchara on #13.  The first club championship that October was won by Jim West, Neal Cocco was second and Bill Thach was third.  No surprises.

    The owners completed Filing #1 that fall and offered 84 single family lots on Holes #10 through #15.  A number of lots actually sold.

    In 1988 Grandote affiliated with Club Corp along with Cuchara Valley Resort.  The company handled management, lodging and advertising. That summer Grandote Enterprises leased Baker Creek Restaurant at the ski area for the convenience of those golfers renting condos up there.  The building at 127 West Ryus in La Veta was purchased for offices and real estate sales.

    In the fall of 1990 Grandote went global when Sun World Co., LTD of Japan joint ventured with Harrison, but at the same time, a moratorium on extraterrestrial water taps again left the pro shop dependent upon a well.  The 1991 season was opened with a cocktail party at which sushi was served to the guests.

    Golf packages were offered, from a two day/one night to six day/five nights deal, ranging from $99.95 to $895.  Golfers were housed in the Cuchara Inn and fed at The Timbers or stayed and ate at Rio Cucharas Inn.  Most deals included golf instruction.

    In 1995 Dr. Randy Briggs of Albuquerque, NM, purchased the golf course and it was renamed Grandote Peaks.  Briggs remains owner.